01 Ho Chi Minh City to Cu Chi Tunnels

Everything happened at once

Our plan originally allowed for a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels near HCMC, a famous Vietnam War site. The tunnels were used as underground communities as well as a means of evading and attacking Western soldiers during the war. This trip would have been perfect to get accustomed to the bikes and riding on the “wrong” (right) side of the road.

Due to an airline schedule change and some confusion about our rental date, we didn’t get the bikes until the night before we set of “for real”. We decided to do the tunnels on the way to Phnom Penh, which made for a 13-hour ride, plus time at the tunnels.

The first 400 metres from our hotel to the service station was pretty confronting: strange bikes, not familiar with traffic customs, full luggage kit, wrong side of the road. And in my case trying to get GPS, sports camera and intercom working. Challenges are good.

We followed a tour guide to the tunnels, but after that we were on our own. I had the tracks loaded in Locus navigator app on my Samsung Galaxy S5, using Open Street Maps. Tracks had been created using a combination of Google Maps and Garmin “Base Camp”.

First disaster: my USB cable had failed and we arrived at the tunnels with my S5 nearly flat. I had backup routes using Here+ maps on a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows phone. I soon discovered that the Here+ maps refused to work unless there is a language-appropriate voice navigator file installed. There’s no option to continue without voice navigation (which I never use anyway). With no Vietnamese voice navigator installed, it just displays an error message and quits. What a f*ked up design.

I did try to give feedback to Here about this problem, but they only provide a facility to “request features” these days, and it doesn’t go anywhere unless it gets enough votes.  So if 10 hipsters request favourite music track sharing, it will happen, but a showstopper navigation defect will not get any attention. The Nokia / Here maps used to be a good option for adventure travellers, but not anymore.

In 2010 I used the Nokia Navigator (pre-smartphone) with Nokia maps and it worked OK. The maps had lots of big grey blanks for parts of Borneo, but so did Garmin at the time. At least it didn’t give retarded error messages. I even managed to record tracks and navigate by running two apps at the same time.

Anyway, back to 2016 … we cobbled up a new charging arrangement for the S5, using gaffer tape and a very short spare cable. However, it was useless for the first hour so I asked for a lot of directions and took a lot of wrong turns.

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